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Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States
Karen is a yogini, writer, student, teacher and meditator. She founded Garden Street School of Yoga in 2000. Karen lives with her husband Chris. They have two amazing sons, Eli and Leo (both of them young men).

Dec 4, 2009

Teachers & Students & Letters

I write letters to my teachers because they tell me to write - ideally every month. But I never find it easy. I really have to work on these letters. Actually, it always feels like the letters are working on me. I don't know if other students of these two teachers feel this way. I've had occasion to read some of their letters and they seem so easeful, useful and graceful. I've never noticed any sweat stains. But I sweat it out every time.

The work, for me, is to stay authentic and transparent. And to write something useful. For a long time I thought I was trying to write something that would be useful to my teacher. It's no surprise that with my compass cocked in that direction I came up empty quite often! I mean - I don't have much if anything to teach my teacher - that's why I'm the student.

Then I began to realize that I was working to write something useful to me. It didn't make it any easier but it did set my compass correctly.

I always realized, from the first letter onward, that regardless of whether or not I could distill out of myself and into words something authentic, transparent & useful - it was still vital that I write. It's a process of putting myself into alignment with my teacher and the teachings. The work of writing sustains and strengthens the lines of transmission between Teacher and Student.

Following the example of my own teachers, I've started asking serious students - or students who want to be serious students - to write to me - or, if they are local, to stay in connection - to stay close. Most students are casual students - at least in relationship to me. (They might be very serious students in relationship to another teacher). For casual studentship, writing and staying close is not part of the studentship "deal". Some - but not all - Immersion students are serious students. And some of the students who have been coming to weekly classes for years (but who will most likely never take an Immersion) are actually serious students even though they probably don't think of themselves in that way.

As I was working on my own letters to my teachers - and contemplating studentship, I got a letter a from Brittany, a long time student who lives in Boise. She is both a serious student and, more recently, an Immersion student. Everybody's studentship "voice" is different. I get a lot of wonderful letters - all quite different from one another. So I am not publishing this letter as an example of "what I'm looking for". Really I wanted to post it because it came to me just when I was wrestling with writing my own letter to my teacher and I found it to be so inspiring. I think it fine tuned my compass in terms of both being a student and being a teacher. Thanks Brittany!

From Brittany:

Hi Karen! Well, here's a go at letting you know how things are going.

You should know, this check-in process has been great for me. Very effective at instigating a steadier journaling practice. I have to journal in order to write to you, pretty much. Otherwise I don't know what is going on, or what "ah-ha's" have come up... because I didn't write them down. I really appreciate you holding us to this responsibility as students - to take notice and pay attention.
Although my practice seems sparse, each time I come to it huge things arise. The other day an image for this came to me. The imagery you've been using for the Immersion works really well with this. It's like keeping a steady practice so that I can begin to move from being a trickle of a stream to becoming more like the Columbia River. Sometimes the flow diminishes, then gushes. There is an ebb and flow in this way. But, you just keep working to maintain the solid river banks and expand them more and more, so when the flood gates do let loose you can contain it and not swamp-out.

In Asana, I have been working diligently with the hamstring engagement that you began helping me with in the Immersion. I've incorporated engagement of the hamstrings into my warm up... as a given. I've always taken a more general warm-up approach. But, knowing that a certain part of my body tends to stay asleep more than others, and then addressing that specifically as a prerequisite to moving forward into advanced practice has been fantastic.

From the last two Immersion parts and then the workshop with John Friend, I have noticed my anatomy has been changed at a core level. My body is taking on different shape. I must work to encourage this change and sustain it into the future... otherwise, sitting at my desk all day long, driving, and other "mundane" tasks and uses of body tend to drag back into old, familiar patterns for the body to operate within.

I have also been working a lot with taking the time to wait..... and open. If I really respect this first principle, no really respect it, my practice takes on new amazing forms. I find, I have fallen into this pattern of leaping into my practice straight away.... I don't take the time to call on Shakti to arise.... so she doesn't and then my practice is neat and tidy. But, nothing new comes from that... there is no verticality. So, that has been amazing to wait for Shakti to appear... now. I have been using this as a focus to become more spacious with myself in general - and those around me, in turn. I know myself to get so serious with the practice. This work is so big, it blows my mind a bit and I want to give myself to the practice to the fullest extent. I find I can begin to become attached to the practice, as opposed to gaining freedom from attachment to personal concern! So, allowing for things to unfold has been big. -

The study kula has been huge in this development for me as well. You can control things much more easily when you compartmentalize yourself off from community. When others are there to reflect your actions, you are faced with the demand to evolve into a perspective of the interconnectedness of everything, or continue to butt heads with attachment to your individuality.

Some "a-ha's" to share: I took a break at work last week to chant. It was a funny experience to chant quietly in a side office, surrounded with people who would consider me to be nuts if they heard exactly what I was doing...... but, maybe they wouldn't. I have been big into practicing the Peace Invocation. After the last immersion I feel I finally 'got' it. As I began the chant, quietly, like telling a reverent secret, I felt strongly the juxtaposition of this ancient ritual within this ultra-modern office/professional environment. I have been feeling less and less odd about chanting in public, or in front of Blake at home, though. So, it was something else that came up - not feelings of shyness. It was an overwhelming gratitude for this chant being made available to me.... when all those people out in the office, and most people in the world, may never get that privilege. I felt tangibly this long line of people, the lineage of the chant and could feel that the act of chanting these particular sounds had been infused by thousands of years of use and reverence. It was as though I could feel the millions and billions of lips that had touched these syllables and it all leading up to now - to me stepping up to repeat this act of chanting, on the 16th floor of this office building in Boise, Idaho. :) I could feel this as a stepping into a grand stream of study and devotion. Then it came all at once that this stream is the same flow of the breath and that this stream is always there, always. Then, as I work closer and closer to the middle of it, I pull all those people around me into closer proximity to that flow... they are just there by being around me as I pull into the flow - they are receiving the benefit of this proximity to the nourishing flow. This is amazing! It felt like this was the first time I'd really experienced that phenomenon of the current... that is there for me to step into. I have felt it before, with rooting and rising in asana, etc. But, it felt like the first time ever I had really experienced this current surrounding me. So, gotta write it!

Meditation has been a challenge. I feel a need to ramp it up a bit. I have been sticking with short, 20 minute sessions. I suspect that I need to lengthen some practices and really sit in the discomfort a bit. Amy posted a video on our blog site. It is Darren Rodes speaking about the need to sit in the concealment, sort of "put in your time", for the revelation to occur.

Study group has been great. It is such a powerful challenge for us all to come together and find our path on this study together. Last meeting, we got the benefit of Amy attending the workshop with John Friend in New Orleans, and Shyla attending the workshop - I think with Darren, in Driggs. So, most of the meeting was discussion and sharing about their experience and revelation. Surprisingly, there were some of us who were not so excited about continuing our study of the Teacher Training DVD's as we had begun. Some people felt that it was too "stiff" just watching and discussing a little bit. Others felt they did not feel "accountable" for the material and for their own practice in between our meetings. I shared my own sentiments. I feel overwhelmingly grateful to have this opportunity to study that material, and with such amazing yoginis at that! It is an opportunity to assimilate some of that material in such a deeper fashion than I would be able to on my own. Plus, I just can't afford to buy those DVD's as of yet!


  1. What a beautiful and authentic letter! Thanks for sharing these profound and sincere reflections on the practice.

  2. Thank you Karen for your encouragement, your steadfast ability to hold your students accountable to themselves and the Work, and for being my illumiation so that I may see clearer the fruits of mySelf without apology.